Last night I took some good friends down to see the world premier of COYOTE by Kevin Kautzman at Nouveau 47 in the Magnolia Lounge. I was especially excited to go down and see this production because it marked my first time seeing a full production as part of a N47 season and a chance to reconnect with Kevin. SDB has been following Kevin's DFW career with some interest since we were introduced at Stage West after the staged reading of THE SPORTS PAGE by Larry Herold. Larry introduced us after the reading and we made plans to go down to N47 to cover Kevin's reading at the New Works, New Voices festival in 2011. I had the priveledge of reading COYOTE as well as a number of Kevin's other scripts before the festival and you can listen to our conversation (and not coincidentally our last entry before our hiatus) here.
My friends O and D joined me on the drive down from Denton (Dan was under the weather) to meet up with Kevin and his family before the show and enjoy a chance few theatre goers get on a regular basis. Meeting the playwright before seeing his play, given the nature of the play, gave us an insight into the energy and the mind of the playwright as person before experiencing the playwright as artist. We met up at The Meridian Room across from Fair Park and talked about the production and the experience of having work produced in the DFW area.
Here we are having just arrived on Exposition Ave before meeting up with Kevin.
And now to the review...
Full disclosure, I have knowledge of the play(and if you have listened to our previous interview with Kevin, you do too) that most theatre goers don't have. O had also read the play so D was really the only member of the group without some prior experience with the work. Knowing that, here we go.
Nouveau 47's production of COYOTE by Kevin Kautzman takes on a challenge that few contemporary playwrights are willing to take on; a talky, content heavy and politically challenging script. The premise of the play is as follows: An older, cantakerous and despicable racist, misgynist border vigilante takes a younger, softer and seemingly naive younger man out with him to guard against the onslaught of illeagle immigrants that cross the border every night. The first act is their first meeting and it seems that Vince, played expertly by Art Peden, is one of the most repugnant characters one would ever meet. Peden's portrayal of the character, and Kautzman's writing of the character, grabbed my interest and attention immediately as the production began. Both Vince and Luke, the younger man, began in the cab of a red truck and Peden's energy from the cab was evident. His portrayal would not be out of place in any contemporary western, he seemed like Rooster Cogburn transplanted out into the Arizona desert. When, in the second act, Vince takes a bite out of some ancient jerky, washing it down with bourbon, I could imagine Peden loosening himself up in the same way; allowing the fluidity of the text to wash into the fibers of his smoke aged voice and sparking the character that brought the most natural performance of the night into focus. He carries the show on his world worn back and his relationship with nature, heritage and social issues of the times (2004) permeate the experience of the production.
Stephen Witkowicz as Luke provides a foil for tacitly offensive language in the script. His portrayal of the character is strong but I found myself wanting more tension between the two men. Where Peden looked like he walked out of a desert somewhere, Witkowicz's servicable portrayal seemed to have a little too much of the city in him. When the second act develops the way it does, it is almost difficult to believe such a green character would be able to decieve a "salt of earth" old dog. His interaction with Anna (Marti Etheridge) provides a moment of comic relief as they explore some of the other side of the immigration debate. Etheridge has the opportunity to employ superb storytelling skills in the second act in a section that was problematic on the page. Shepard's Earth Mother she is not, but Anna provides the third foci in the triangle of discussion around the sensitive issue of immigration.
Another local critic had this to say about the production:
Kautzman seems to be making a social statement. If so, it’s curiously open-ended. You don’t really know who wins the battle of wits these characters are waging. It’s less frustrating than it might have been because we’ve become so alienated from these people that we aren’t really rooting for any of them anymore.
For me, I don't think there is any "seeming" to make a social statement and the open ended nature of the ending is not problematic because of the nature of dialogue regarding social issues, there is no end to the discussion and no clear winner. There is not a sympathetic character in this script and that is true to life. The play is written with such an expert touch, audience members find themselves agreeing with rhetoric that in any other venue they would reject outright. It is this, Kautzman's ability to worm in through the cracks in the social identity of the audience, that makes this play successful. On the way back to the car, O and D and I discussed the play which you can listen to below.
The cast and director with Kevin.